Reading Wednesday

    Book Review A Shadow in Moscow by Katherine Reay

    Like many novels, Reay creates two separate story timeliness to propel this Cold War story forward; one that begins in 1954 and one that begins in 1980. Here is my book review A Shadow in Moscow by Katherine Reay.

    Vienna after the War

    Ingrid Bauer has lost everything and everyone she loves. Her beloved Vienna is in shambles. And so she agrees to a brief courtship and marriage to a Soviet embassy worker and they move back to Moscow where he accepts a promotion.

    But timid Ingrid finds everything about the Soviet regime difficult. Including her husband who she now suspects is working for the KGB. When she gives birth to a daughter, she realizes this secretive Soviet world is not what she wants for this darling little baby to grow up with. And so she secretly reaches out to the British embassy, where she was secretly born, and begins a life as a spy.

    Moscow at the Height of the Cold War

    Anya, a bright and aspiring student from the Soviet Union, has spent four years in the coveted Foreign Studies Initiative at Georgetown University. During her time in the USA she has pretended to be German, because the USSR and the USA are definitely not friends. She has also fallen in love with an American, although she knows she must cut the relationship off, as her time to return to the Soviet Union approaches.

    Anya struggles after she returns, and begins to question the oppressive regime. When her best friend is murdered by the KGB, Anya vows revenge and becomes a spy for the United States.

    On a Collision Course

    As these two stories unfold, it’s clear these two remarkable women are headed for a collision course. But what does that mean? When a act of treachery in Eastern Europe puts them both in extreme danger, something, or someone will make a decision that will change everyone’s lives forever.

    Book Review A Shadow in Moscow by Katherine Reay

    I really loved this book. I enjoyed a novel about the Cold War era…a topic not often explored. The writing is very good and I was intrigued throughout. *****Five stars for A Shadow in Moscow by Katherine Reay.

    Thanks for reading my book review A Shadow in Moscow by Katherine Reay. See last week’s book review A River We Remember by William Kent Krueger here.

    Europe Travel

    Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

    Location: Athens Greece

    Despite the title of this post, I had actually visited Athens once before. But that visit, just a few hours tour from a cruise ship, was somewhat of a disaster. So, when I had the opportunity to visit again, 17 years later, I was excited. I knew Athens could be fantastic, and I set out with fresh eyes. Over a two and a half day visit, I fell in love with this ancient and remarkable city. Here are my thoughts; Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

    Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City

    Seventeen Years Later

    Our first time in Athens, we arrived via a cruise ship as part of a Mediterranean cruise. We booked an excursion to the Acropolis during our one day in port. It was a disaster. The bus was awful. The Acropolis was crowded. Our tour guide was boring. Everything about the day was a bust. We were disappointed because my hopes for this city had been so high.

    Fast forward 17 years and we are a very different kind of traveler now. Having been around the world, seen ancient sites large and small, we knew we could do this city on our own. We did, and Athens was redeemed in our eyes. So let me tell you what I recommend for Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.


    Athens For First Timers

    We arrived from Barcelona a little late, but the Athens airport was easy to maneuver and we were in a taxi with our luggage within 30 min of landing. Taxi service from the airport to downtown is convenient and cost about 45 Euro. Our driver was friendly and helpful and spoke great English.

    We chose to stay at the NLH Kerameikos, a small boutique style hotel centrally located to everything. This hotel is not a high end fancy place, but it was perfect for our needs and our budget and included an excellent breakfast and helpful staff.

    Once we checked in we headed out immediately. We had pre-booked entrance tickets to the Acropolis Museum online. We wanted to start with the museum, before we spent time actually visiting the Acropolis. The museum in it’s current configuration was opened in 2009 and provides an excellent overview of the ancient and recent history of the UNESCO World Heritage Acropolis and Parthenon. I highly recommend you do this museum first. We were there in March and it was not crowded at all, but be aware the summer months can be very busy. Definitely book your tickets in advance.

    Acropolis Museum
    Acropolis Museum

    After several hours in the museum we took a leisurely stroll through the Adrianou Pedestrian area back towards our hotel and chose to have dinner al fresco at Kosmikon. Although this area is quite touristy with lots of shops and restaurants, we found the food exceptional and the service excellent. I enjoyed roasted lamb and my husband had a Cretan Pasta with mushrooms. A great start on the delicious cuisine of Greece.

    Mushroom Pasta

    Day Two

    We planned to save the Acropolis for our final day, and laid out a plan for day two that included everything else we wanted to see.

    It was recommended to us to purchase the Athens Combo Pass for 7 of the archaeological sites in Athens, including the Acropolis. In the off season, which was when we were traveling, the pass can be purchased at the entrance to any one of the 7 sites for 33 Euro per person (more in high season) and you have five days to use the pass. Because we were not sure how busy the sites would be, we headed to one of the less popular sites, Kerameikos, to buy our combo pass first thing in the morning on day two. It was very quiet with very few other visitors. So we purchased the passes and walked right in.

    During peak season, you might consider purchasing the Combo Pass online ahead of time, because the rules are different. In peak season you either buy online, or at the ticket entrance to the Acropolis. Once you purchase the ticket at the Acropolis you must enter immediately. Summer is very busy and entry to the Acropolis is by timed-specific entry. Another good reason to travel shoulder season. Be sure to do your research for the time frame you are visiting. Learn more here.

    Views from everywhere

    Throughout day two we visited five of the 7 sites. We did not make it to Aristotle’s Lyceum so I can’t comment on that. Also, of all the sites, the Kerameikos was my least favorite and also the least well cared for with minimal interpretive information. If you are short on time skip it. Here are the ones we loved;

    Ancient Agora

    I loved this big and diverse area, a classic example of a Greek assembly, commercial and gathering area. Not fully excavated even today, the Ancient Agora is estimated to have structures as ancient as mid 100’s CE. The impressive Temple of Aphrodite was my favorite.

    Temple of Aphrodite
    Ancient Agora

    Roman Agora

    The Roman Agora, estimated to have been built around 10 BC after a promise by Julius Caesar, has still not been fully excavated. The columns here are very impressive. This site is much smaller than the Ancient Agora and very beautiful.

    Roman Agora
    Roman Agora

    Hadrian’s Library

    Built in 132 AD by Roman Emperor Hadrian, this typical Roman Forum Architecture includes a high wall and decorative columns surrounding a pool in the middle. Definitely worth a visit.

    Hadrian’s Library
    Hadrian’s Library

    Temple of the Olympian Zeus

    This is a former colossal temple at the center of Athens. It was dedicated to “Olympian” Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. Construction began in the 6th century BC.

    Temple of the Olympian Zeus

    Additionally we wandered through the “Plaka”, Athens’ oldest neighborhood now catering to tourists with small restaurants and shops. We enjoyed a coffee and took lots of photos.

    At the end of this lovely day we had a delicious Greek dinner at Hermion in their outdoor garden. We enjoyed a wide variety of local favorites such as moussaka, dolmades three ways, and olives.

    We headed back to our hotel for a rest just as it started to rain. But we rallied later, raincoats in hand, to go see the Acropolis view after dark. We headed to the rooftop bar very near to our hotel called A is for Athens. While sipping a gin and tonic we marveled at the beauty of the city at night, and the ancient Acropolis. What a place it is.

    What a view from A is for Athens Rooftop Bar

    Day Three

    After all we had seen and learned, we were ready to get up to the mountaintop and the Acropolis. The word Acropolis means high place. I really wanted to see it without the crowds, so we got up early and were in line by 7:45am for the 8:00am opening. There were twenty people already ahead of us in line on this chilly March morning. It was definitely worth getting there early. The photo opportunities with so few people in the morning sun was fabulous.

    Acropolis Erechtheion

    The history of this place is incredible and I take this paragraph from because it so eloquently sums it up;

    The Acropolis of Athens is one of the most famous ancient archaeological sites in the world. Located on a limestone hill high above Athens, Greece, the Acropolis has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Over the centuries, the Acropolis was many things: a home to kings, a citadel, a mythical home of the gods, a religious center and a tourist attraction. It has withstood bombardment, massive earthquakes and vandalism yet still stands as a reminder of the rich history of Greece. Today, it is a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site and home to several temples, the most famous of which is the Parthenon.

    Beautiful morning light
    The North Entrance

    Meet the Evzones

    After about two hours of enjoying every aspect of the ancient Acropolis and Parthenon, we headed back down the south side and back out onto the Adrianou Pedestrian Way. The weather had turned quite chilly but we headed to the Parliament building off of Syntagma square to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The guards are known as the Evzones. They make up a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Monument of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. The monument is a cenotaph created between 1930 and 1932, dedicated to Greek soldiers who were killed during times of war. Changing of the guard happens on the hour daily. Definitely worth a visit to experience their unique march and historic dress.

    Evzones Changing of the Guard
    Evzones Changing of the Guard

    City Bus Tour

    By this time on day three the weather had taken a turn and it was very cold and wet. We decided to do a hop on hop off bus tour to get out of the weather and to enjoy a city tour of some of the sights we may have missed. This is something we do occasionally in cities, especially for the audio part and to get the lay of the land. We did not get off the bus, we just stayed on through the entire tour. It is a really good way to orientate and we learned some new things. We also discovered a couple of areas we might want to visit if we every get back to Athens in the future including the National Archeology Museum and the Benaki Art Museum.


    We ended our third and final day in Athens in the Psirri neighborhood close to our hotel, at the highly rated Bandiera restaurant. Since our day had started early, we were hungry for an early dinner and, despite the chilly day, we enjoyed sitting on the outdoor area under the heat lamps. The food was excellent and so was our server. We enjoyed the most amazing salad as well as fish and lamb.

    Lamb at Bandiera

    What a wonderful visit we had. Time to head back to our hotel to pack and prepare for our VERY early morning flight to Crete. Farewell Athens. Thanks for showing me how wonderful you can be. Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City.

    Farewell Athens

    Thanks for reading this week’s blog post Athens for First Timers – A Beautiful City. See last week’s post Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees. Stay tuned as we continue our European travels through Crete, Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia. Thank you!

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The River We Remember by William Kent Krueger

    I have enjoyed three other books by William Kent Krueger; Lightning Strike and Ordinary Grace as well as one of my all time favorite reads This Tender Land. Today I present his latest – here is my book review The River We Remember by William Kent Krueger

    Murder in a Small Town

    The theme of a murder in a small town isn’t a new one, but Krueger manages to capture the small town feeling so eloquently in this novel. It’s 1958 and the story begins when the body of the towns wealthy, arrogant and mostly disliked Jimmy Quinn is found in the Alabaster River. But Quinn didn’t drown, he was shot.


    Sherriff Brody Dern begins the investigation, as he deals with his own emotional scars from his time in the war. But he is focused and sees clearly that the murder scene has been set up. But by who? The small town has a surprisingly large cast of characters, given how just about everyone disliked Quinn.

    At the top of the suspect list, at least to most of the racist folks in town, is Noah Bluestone, a WWII Veteran and Native American. Bluestone’s Japanese wife, who is also discriminated against in the post-war era is also a suspect.

    Throughout the investigation Brody is assisted by a former deputy, an eccentric attorney, and a newspaper editor, each dealing with their own demons and life tragedies. Quinn’s family is also suspect, none of them seeming overly grief stricken about the murder of Jimmy Quinn.


    Can this highly charged murder get a fair trial in a small town such as Jewell Minnisota? Only a few level headed townspeople as well as two teenage boys can keep an open mind as the investigation comes to a violent end.

    Book Review A River We Remember by William Kent Krueger

    Although not my favorite Krueger novel, this book captured by attention and was easy to read. Five stars for A River We Remember. See last week’s book review Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer

    Thanks for reading my book review A River We Remember by William Kent Krueger. We love it when you comment, pin and share our book reviews. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees

    Location: Andorra la Velle

    Andorra, officially known as the Principality of Andorra, is a small landlocked country located in the eastern Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain. With an area of just 468 square kilometers, Andorra is one of the smallest countries in Europe. Despite its size, Andorra boasts a rich history, stunning landscapes, and a unique cultural heritage. Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees.

    Welcome to Andorra

    Third Time’s The Charm

    We had considered visiting Andorra on two earlier occasions; before starting the Camino de Santiago and on a previous visit to Barcelona. Both times the logistics just didn’t work. So the third time is the charm. We had a few days to fill before heading to Greece, and a quick visit to Andorra seemed a perfect fit.

    Andorra nestled between France and Spain

    Mountain Majesty

    The country is known for its picturesque mountainous terrain, making it a popular destination for outdoor activities such as skiing, hiking, and mountain biking. Andorra is home to several ski resorts, including Grandvalira and Vallnord, which attract tourists from around the world during the winter months.

    Beautiful day for hiking
    Hiking in Andorra la Velle

    Andorra’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, with visitors drawn to the country’s scenic beauty, duty-free shopping opportunities, and vibrant cultural festivals. The capital city, Andorra la Vella, is a charming town with a mix of historic architecture and modern amenities. The city is also known for its quaint shops, bustling markets, and delicious local cuisine.

    Andorra la Velle

    Our Brief Visit

    We took the regularly scheduled Andbus from Barcelona which was convenient and comfortable (although I wished for a restroom). The three and a half hour bus ride started at the Barcelona Airport and ended at our hotel for the bargain price of $75 per person roundtrip. We spent three nights at the historic Hotel Pyrenees. The nightly rate in March was $80 for a comfortable room that included an amazing breakfast. If you plan to ski you might want a car, but for our brief visit we knew we could walk everywhere we wanted to go in the capital city of Andorra la Velle.

    There is wonderful dining and shopping in Andorra la Velle and we engaged in a little bit of both. I highly recommend two restaurants when visiting that we enjoyed;

    Spanish Tapas at Izai

    After a long travel day we ended up at this amazing restaurant right across the street from our hotel. We were looking for an early dinner, so we were presented the Tapas menu and what an unexpected treasure this place was. Absolutely delicious from tuna sushi to charcuterie. I highly recommend you visit Izai.

    Authentic Mexican at Cantinita de la Adelita

    We walked past this Mexican restaurant in the morning and the menu looked amazing so we tucked back in later in the afternoon. Spectacular selection of authentic Mexican treats in the heart of Andorra. I highly recommend you visit Cantinita de la Adelita.

    Izai tuna sushi
    Izai Charcuterie
    Amazing guacamole at Cantinita de la Adelita
    Tacos at Cantinita de la Adelita

    We did a lovely hike on a sunny but chilly morning on the Rec de Sola trail above town, giving us views back across the valley. We walked through the town and did a bit of shopping. Then we took some time to visit the Church of Santa Coloma is one of the oldest in Andorra. Dating to the pre-Romanesque period, it was built between the 8th and 9th centuries and has a rectangular nave and quadrangular apse. Its current appearance comes from the refurbishment carried out during the 12th century, when the four-storey Lombard-style circular bell tower was added.  It is one of the most photographed places in Andorra.

    Church of Santa Coloma
    Pedestrian shopping area
    A River Runs Through It – the Gran Vilira
    Caldea Spa

    On our final day in Andorra la Velle we spent several hours at the famous Caldea Thermal Spa. Many people come to Andorra la Velle just to experience this state of the art and beautiful facility. We bought tickets that included dinner at Blu Restaurant, and for $18 we were amazed how good it was. Then we headed to enjoy all of the pools, spas, ice baths and saunas. Caldea also offers classes and massage and much more. It’s an absolute must when in Andorra la Velle.

    Dinner at Blu Restaurant Caldea
    Dessert with a view
    Caldea Spa
    Enjoying the grapefruit pool, just one of many options

    The Heart of the Pyrenees

    Despite its small size, Andorra has a unique political system known as a diarchy, with the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain serving as co-princes of the country. Andorra is also known for its low taxes and high standard of living, making it an attractive destination for expatriates and retirees.

    Overall, Andorra is a hidden gem in the heart of the Pyrenees, offering visitors a perfect blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and outdoor adventure opportunities.

    The Gran Vilira runs through Andorra.

    Thank you for reading my post Andorra – The Heart of the Pyrenees. See last week’s post When in Rome and stay turned for more upcoming Europe posts as we head next to the Mediterranean.

    Don’t miss last week book review Lincoln on the Verge

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    Island Life

    Book Review Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer

    Dramatic and riveting, I enjoyed this masterful work about Abraham Lincoln and how it almost didn’t happen. Here is my book review Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer.

    Thirteen Days

    In our fast paced world today it’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact it took President Elect Abraham Lincoln thirteen days to travel from Illinois to Washington DC. Widmer uses extensive research, first hand accounts, letters and telegrams to create this theatrical but factual story.

    A Country in Crisis

    As Lincoln slowly makes his way to his inauguration, the country is divided and in crisis. Multiple attempts to assassinate Lincoln are in the works. As well as multiple plans to keep Lincoln from ever being inaugurated. Eerily familiar to our recent political chaos, the United States is on the verge of collapse, anarchy and civil war as Southern states have vowed to keep Lincoln from ever taking office.

    A Man in the Making

    During the 13 day passage, Lincoln’s loyal supporters will create an incredibly well planned journey to protect him at all costs. All while Lincoln himself discovers his own strength through his eloquent voice, as he triumphs in his desire to be the man who is like the people who voted for him.

    On the Verge

    This journey, perilous and fraught, puts Lincoln on the Verge of greatness. It’s unthinkable what the United States would look like, if Lincoln had not indeed survived and become the greatest of our Presidents in the USA.

    I highly recommend this fascinating book. I learned so much about our country, our history, this President and a fascinating collection of characters who we never hear of, but who saved Lincoln on the Verge.

    Thanks for reading my Book Review Lincoln on the Verge by Ted Widmer. See last week’s book review The Council of Dolls.

    We love it when you pin and share our book reviews. Thank you.

    Europe Travel

    When in Rome

    Location: Rome Italy

    We spent three days in Rome in March. We visited many iconic sites, but today for the purpose of this blog post I am going to talk about the Colosseum. Rome is one of the most beautiful cities in the world…also one of the most visited. Even during our visit in March it was bursting with tourists. Everyone wants to visit one of the great wonders of the world, the Flavian Amphitheater, more commonly called the Colosseum. And so When in Rome…

    Flavian Amphitheater, commonly known as the Colosseum

    Seventeen Years

    It’s been 17 years since I visited Rome…my one and only visit prior to this. Seventeen years ago travel was very different. At that time carrying the “world wide web” in your pocket was just developing. I did not own a smart phone and was still using a DSLR camera. Words I had never uttered included social media, travel influencer and digital nomad. Businesses like Get Your Guide, Trip Advisor, Airbnb and Yelp were on the cusp of changing the way we travel.

    October 2007
    March 2024
    October 2007

    Our visit to Rome in 2007 was for four days at the end of a Mediterranean cruise. We walked up to the ticket booth at the Colosseum and purchased a ticket. Then walked into a line that was about a two hour wait. We didn’t actually wait though. We snuck in…yes we did. When in Rome….

    Fast Forward to 2024

    Today things are very different. Metal detectors, passport checks – high security is everywhere. To avoid the lines, you pay to do a tour. We booked with Get Your Guide a skip-the-line tour that included the underground area of the Colosseum, something I was very interested in seeing and something we did not see on our first visit. Our tour was about 3 and half hours, included an hour and a half with an archaeologist in the underground as well as a walk through the Roman Forum. This tour cost $100. If you are interested in the magnificent history of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, seeing the underground with an archaeologist is a must. It was very much worth the additional cost. By the way, a single entry with out a tour guide is $45. So the tour is twice as much, and so worth it, especially if this is a one time dream vacation visiting Rome.

    Looking into the underground area
    Standing in the underground area

    History in a Nutshell

    The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of ancient Rome and a marvel of Roman engineering and architecture. Built in the first century AD under the rule of Emperor Vespasian, the Colosseum is one of the largest and most well-preserved amphitheaters in the world.

    Ancient and remarkable

    This massive structure could hold up to 80,000 spectators and was used for various forms of entertainment, including gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, and mock sea battles. The Colosseum’s design features a complex system of ramps, tunnels, and trapdoors that allowed for the efficient movement of people, animals, and props during events.

    Beautiful at night

    The exterior of the Colosseum showcases three distinct architectural orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, reflecting the grandeur and sophistication of Roman architecture. The Colosseum’s elliptical shape and tiered seating provided excellent views for all spectators, creating an immersive and thrilling experience for the audience.

    Despite centuries of neglect and damage from earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum still stands as a testament to the ingenuity and craftsmanship of the ancient Romans.


    Today, the Colosseum is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, drawing millions of visitors each year to marvel at its grandeur and learn about its fascinating history. Even during our visit in March, and even on a rainy day, there were thousands of people. If you want to visit Rome, I recommend doing it in the shoulder season. Summer can be jam-packed.

    Colosseum in the background taken from the Forum
    Underground in the Colosseum

    When in Rome

    The Colosseum serves as a poignant reminder of the power, culture, and entertainment of ancient Rome, symbolizing the enduring legacy of one of the greatest civilizations in history. Everyone should see it once in a lifetime. Be sure to see it after dark too. Magical.


    Thank you for reading my blog post When in Rome. See last week’s post Sicily Sensory Journey. Don’t miss last week’s book review The Council of Dolls by Susan Powers.

    Are you following us on Pinterest? See this week’s top pin here Two Days in Bologna Italy.

    We love it when you comment, pin and share our blog posts. Thank you! Grazie! Keep following as we explore more of Europe in the weeks to come.

    Reading Wednesday

    Book Review The Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Powers

    This is a powerful telling of three generations of Yanktonai Dakota Native American Women over multiple generations. Disturbing but also important, like other books about the horrific treatment of Native peoples during the early years of USA expansion. Here is my book review The Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Powers.


    Powers using dolls to tell this story…three dolls that belonged to three different generations of women. Each doll propelling the story forward of the anguish and heartache of these women and their life and loves.

    First we meet Sissy in the early 1960’s as she tries to make her mother love her. Sissy wants to feel secure and safe, but her mother is battling her own demons. Sissy’s doll Ethel might save her life.

    Next we meet Lillian, who has witnessed the unthinkable at the hands of a nun in an Indian School in the 1920’s far from her family she loves. Lillian will lose two people she loves the most, and her doll Mae will try to ease the pain.

    And finally we meet Cora, born in 1888 her life will be upended at the end of the Indian Wars when she is transferred to an Indian School. On arrival her most precious items will be taken from her and burned, including her doll Winona. The spirit of Winona will guide Cora through the tragedies that will come.

    This is a powerful story of the generations of grief and pain that will forever haunt the people who witnessed the massacre of a people at the hands of white run, Christian boarding schools that have still to this day not apologized or provided restitution for the damage and death that was dealt.

    *****Five stars for The Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Powers.

    Thank you for reading my book review The Council of Dolls by Mona Susan Powers. See last week’s book review Happiness Falls by Angie Kim.

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